Katie Fyfe | The Journal Gazette The Mad Ants' Alize Johnson dunks in front of the Drive's Johnny Hamilton on Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.
Katie Fyfe | The Journal Gazette The Mad Ants' Rob Gray takes a shot during the fourth quarter against Grand Rapids Drive at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.
Katie Fyfe | The Journal Gazette The Mad Ants' Stephan Hicks goes up for a shot during the third quarter against Grand Rapids Drive at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.
Katie Fyfe | The Journal Gazette The Mad Ants' Stephan Hicks dunks the ball during the third quarter against Grand Rapids Drive at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.
Katie Fyfe | The Journal Gazette The Mad Ants' Edmond Sumner eyes the basket during the fourth quarter against Grand Rapids Drive at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.
Katie Fyfe | The Journal Gazette The Mad Ants' Davon Reed goes to shoot and gets fouled by Grand Rapids Drive's isaiah Whitehead during the second quarter at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.
Sunday, March 24, 2019 1:00 am
Grand Rapids 121, Mad Ants 118
Ants end season on sour note
JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette
Bolstered by a festive crowd of 5,553 at Memorial Coliseum – where the 600-level seats were opened for the only time this season – the Mad Ants tried desperately to finish the season with a victory Saturday night.
But they came up short.
After squandering an early 14-point lead, the Mad Ants lost 121-118 to the Grand Rapids Drive (28-22), which secured the Central Division championship behind Isaiah Whitehead's 34 points.
Alize Johnson, an Indiana Pacers prospect, may have cemented his status as one of the best players in Mad Ants history with 34 points – the most of his rookie season – and 11 rebounds. The sample size on Johnson may be small, but he has 23 double-doubles in 31 games.
“We always try to go out there and play our best,” said Johnson, whose Mad Ants finished their 12th season of play, and fourth under the ownership of the Pacers, with a 23-27 record – only the second time since 2011-12 they've finished below .500, joining the 20-30 record from 2015-16.
“If things get out of hand, we try to adjust and try to do the right things. We have all year. This game got out of our reach, but we tried to make a comeback and make a run for it. We just came up a little short.”
The Mad Ants were down 14 late after a Whitehead layup made it 119-105 with 5:08 left in the fourth quarter. But Fort Wayne clawed its way back, led by the Rob Gray's jump shooting and his 22 points.
Edmond Sumner blocked a Kenneth “Speedy” Smith shot with 6.6 seconds left to give Fort Wayne a chance to force overtime, but Sumner lost control of the ball after an in-bounds play and then hoisted up a desperation shot that missed at the buzzer.
“It came down to a couple stops at the end. We made a couple of mistakes at the end, but I think we played a full game,” said Fort Wayne's Stephan Hicks, who had 15 points and nine rebounds. “We made a couple of mistakes here and there, but I thought we brought the energy tonight. It being our last game, we may not have been playing for anything, but I thought we played an overall great game.”
The Mad Ants were an especially young team this season, made up of almost all first- and second-year players, including Pacers prospects Johnson, Sumner and Davon Reed, along with the veteran Hicks, who had a stint in the NBA with Indiana.
Coach Steve Gansey, who has one more year on his contract, was pleased with the strides the team made this season, yet inconsistency was a problem even in the finale.
“We were ready early on and moving the ball, but we got stagnant there in that second quarter,” Gansey said. “Forty-eight minutes is a long game, and it felt like this game was really long. It came down to executing and getting some stops. In that second quarter, Grand Rapids put up 46 points (to our 30), and you can't win a lot of games letting a team put up that many points in a quarter.
“Grand Rapids had played last night, and they needed this game to win the division, so I knew they weren't going to back down. But we needed to get stops in that second quarter and we didn't. We were fouling way too much.”
Sumner had 13 points and 10 assists.